In the previous post Barriers to New Groups, I list three distinct barriers that prevent the average person from participating in a small group or Sunday School class. These 3 barriers are:
- I don’t know anyone in the group;
- I don’t know the group leader;
- I’m not sure about a lifetime commitment to weekly group meetings.
(go here to read about these barriers in a little more detail)
This past Sunday at the church I serve as interim education minister, we started a “Connections Group” (see pic at right). As we prepared to launch the Connections Group, we realized that the 3 barriers are kind of interwoven with each other. Here is how we addressed them:
First, we used the power of the pulpit. Three weeks before the beginning of the new group, I made an announcement about the Connections Group during worship. This is crucial for a couple of reasons.
One, it addresses the issue of not knowing the group leader. We leveraged the pulpit. People attending worship got to see me, and learn that I am leading the new group. Since I’m on the church staff, people intangibly feel like they know me anyway.
Second, by promoting the Connections Group for three straight Sundays, occasional worship attenders are more likely to hear the announcement.
Next, since the announcement is made with a start date (November 4 was our start), interested people naturally assume that everyone in the group will be new, which addresses the very first barrier.
Finally, we announced that the group is 6 weeks long, which addresses the final barrier regarding commitment. Someone may feel squeamish about joining a group for life, but you can do anything for 6 weeks! Also, in the announcements an in publicity, we shared that we would be studying John Ortberg’s The Life You’ve Always Wanted. We found that the topic had a large appeal.
Pulpit announcements were not the only publicity we used. Beginning three weeks out, we sent everyone who had visited our church for the past 6 months but not joined a Sunday School class an invitation letter to the new Connections Group. The next week we followed up with a card. The final week, we sent an email and made phone calls. The three Sundays prior to the start of the group, we inserted registration cards in the worship bulletins.
The results: we started our first Connections Group with a full house (we had to bring in chairs) of 37 people. We started with a general introduction from myself, and then I had them share a few minutes around their tables so they could get to know each other. I led the group, but we did our discussion questions and Bible study around tables so that people were able to talk and get to know each other.
Also, we gave everyone a nametag and they wore them!
So what happens after 6 weeks is up? We are going to spin off between 3 and 5 new groups out of the Connections Group. I am enlisting facilitators for each table. People attending the group will get to know each other and their facilitator, making it much easier to spin off new groups because the relationships with each other and their facilitator have begun to form.
Nobody in the group on Sunday was attending another group in our church. Also, I was impressed with the openness as people volunteered to share why they had decided to join the group.
I also think that this is a model that most churches could adopt to start a new group. Pastors especially have pulpit appeal. Rather than starting an ongoing Pastor’s Class, pastors could lead a Connection Group and spin a new group or two off it after six weeks. Even small attendance churches could use this model. You don’t need 37 people, 4-6 people and a table facilitator will work beautifully.
Tomorrow… I’m going to share the strategy behind using a DVD plus how to start new groups using a campaign.